They are known by the ingredients used or not used (e.g., ‘We start with real chicken’). They are known by quality and consistency (e.g., numerous recalls and cutting corners with ingredient quality). They are known by performance and consumer support (e.g., scientific evidence of better health and information pieces). These messages and claims can allow penetration into multiple sales channels or limit the paths forward.
Seen it all?
Over the thirty plus years that I have been in the pet food market, I have had times where I had thought I had ‘seen it all’ when it came to brand messages. However, after visiting a recent industry show, it appears that messages are expanding rapidly. Brand messaging has less to do with pet performance and more to do with making products that are similar to many human foods (drinks, supplements, snacks, fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.). Entry into our market is rapid as new groups and venture capital engage. Developments in pet food products Foods used to focus on nutritional content and performance while being rather simple in shape and colour. Over time products were developed with new textures, colours, and shapes. Products were dry, soft-dry, soft-moist, and co-extruded. More recently, the product form has added complexity via higher meat content, added dried fruits and vegetables and freeze-dried pieces. Stabilizing products like these has added new challenges to controlling rancidity, bacteria, mould and texture.
Changing brand messages
The biggest changes in brand messaging started over two decades ago with a constant attack on ingredients. The messages of some brands focused on not having certain ingredients like corn, wheat or soybean; rather than supporting why the formulation was better. These messages were often not based upon scientific evidence, but on opinion or web-driven ‘experts’. Today, we find a market where every ingredient has been attacked by one group or another. Simply, there are no ingredients which are free from a negative opinion. This makes building a new brand message difficult and costly. Either it will be a ‘me-too’ message to follow other brands or the message will try to set its own course with new innovation and scientific substantiation.
Where to start?
Our current company has helped build many brand messages of products all over the world. We always find it best to start by looking at the company’s business plan and then building the messages and products that support that plan. Answering simple questions like these will help sort out messaging that fits your company’s plan:
- What does your company stand for? (e.g. natural and simple)
- Who are we? (e.g. long-term in the pet market)
- What are our strengths and weaknesses? (e.g. pet experts) 52 www.petsinfo.net June 2015 Marketing PETS International
- How do others view your company in the marketplace? (e.g. many connections)
- If you are a new company, then how will you be viewed in the marketplace? (e.g. we need to prove ourselves)
- How are your current and new products different from competition? (e.g. fortified with some key nutrients)
- What are the unique components or stories found in your products and brand message? (e.g. family owned)
The answers to these will determine what you are able to say about your company, brand and products. Once these questions arefirmlyestablished,thenandonlythen should products be designed to fit the plan. A determined effort should be made to keep the message simple to understand. This facilitates saying ‘no’ to some products and statements. Why? Because a message, claim or product just doesn’t fit the plan.
In the 1980s, the marketing rule of 4s and 5s was well understood. This meant that a consumerhadtohearyourmessagefouror five times before they initiated a buying decision. By the 1990s, this rule had expanded to the rule of 13s and 14s because consumers were flooded more often with more messaging. Today, I would say this rule has expanded to a daunting rule of 80s and 90s. Consumers are confused and looking for simple, easy to understand messages and claims. They are inundated with emails, regular mail and social media – alltryingtogettheirattentionanddecision to purchase. Yet, consumers want more information to aid their buying decision. So, where do you need to begin?
- Build the overall message and brand identity. Stay on course. Keep your messaging simple and easy to understand. Marketing messages must create a need and must separate from the competition – there must be a difference. The brand name should be consistent with the message. For instance, a hypothetical brand called ‘Simple’ would be lost with packaging, brochures or website that were highly complex and cluttered.
- Determinetheproductsthatsupportthat message. That would include determining the ingredients that are consistent with the overall positions. What ingredients will you allow? What ingredients will you not allow? Do the products need to be natural? Do they have to have meat? What other ingredients should be consistent in the products?
- Whattypeofproductionfacilityand controls support your message? A brand message can be quickly destroyed with a recall, bad press or inconsistency. New regulatory requirements are increasing the drive to human food-like controls. What support must be in place? What level of certification is mandatory? What cost constraints do you have?
- What claims and data are required to support your message to the consumer? In many markets, only structure-function Dr George Collings firstname.lastname@example.org www.cnutritionsolutions.com claims are allowed. As an example, calcium is added for bones and teeth. Some claims are allowable based upon levels of calories, fibre or other nutrients.
Acceptance of your message
Consumers will often form opinions quickly on palatability, stools and other responses from their pet. If there is a product problem that was not foreseen in development, it could quickly ruin the brand message.
While I highly support substantiated claims on nutritional impact for health, many regulators have carved a long and expensive processforapproval.Alternativeoptionsare field trials that support the overall message without building a specific claim. Building connections with passionate consumers (e.g., through social media) can help your brand by utilizing their ability to spread the message into the market.
A beating drum
There are many new and exciting brands and messages coming into our market. Those companiesthattakethetimetofocusand build a consistent message will be like a ‘beating drum’ in the market – easy for the consumer to understand and hear. www.petsinfo.net 53
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